While there have been strides taken in filling up the gender gap across fields, especially engineering and technology-based, there are still miles to go. At times, though, it is due to part societal misconceptions and part lack of knowledge about different fields that we have a gap to fill. That said, what we need is information on all available career and educational prospects that help with choosing the path forward. One such option is machine learning. Machine learning (ML), for the uninitiated, is the science of getting computers i.e., the machines to study and behave like humans, and improve their learning over time automatically, from the fed information and data that comes in the form of observations and real-world interactions. It is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI).

With digitisation and AI being a huge part of the future, a career in ML could be successful and rewarding, as Vaishali Kasture, Leader – Strategic Projects, AISPL, Amazon Web Services (AWS) India and South Asia, can attest to. “Machine learning is one of the most disruptive technologies we will encounter in our generation. We’re seeing ML adopted across all industries, verticals, and businesses.” For example, Zomato uses machine learning for menu digitisation and enabling consumers to run advanced searches for dishes, and RedBus uses ML to improve click-through rates on their website by 25% and conversion rates by 5%.

Importance Of Machine Learning for the Future

In her over two-decade-old career, one thing Kasture has realised is that technology is one of the most important driving factors in any business, be it banking where she started her career or the Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) industry. Even when working at one of India’s prominent credit bureaus, she saw that technology was the key differentiator. There she used the cloud, machine learning and artificial intelligence to drive faster and better outcomes for our banking customers. “This really opened my eyes to the power of the cloud and new emerging technologies,” she notes, “I am convinced that every business will be reimagined using new and emerging technologies, and only those that adapt and embrace this change will survive.” She joined AWS in 2019 on the back of this conviction.

The AWS DeepRacer Women’s League – India 2021 is intentionally designed to create awareness of ML among women students in India, enable them to explore ML, learn collaboratively, and inspire them to take up careers in ML. “We were delighted that over 17,000 women students from all corners of India showed interest to participate in the competition,” she smiles. DeepRacer as the AWS website states is ‘an autonomous 1/18th scale race car designed to test real-life models by racing them on a physical track. Using cameras to view the track and a reinforcement model to control throttle and steering, the car shows how a model trained in a simulated environment can be transferred to the real-world.’

ML proved to be useful in the current pandemic too! It is playing a key role in better understanding and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fight against the pandemic, organisations have been quick to apply their machine learning expertise in several areas including scaling customer communications, understanding how COVID-19 spreads and speeding up research and treatment.

Overcoming The Gender Disparity in Technology

Despite the strides women have made in engineering, IT and beyond, there is still a gender gap in the field. Kasture gives a clear idea on what can be and should be done: “At the grassroots level, there is a strong gender stereotype about women in STEM in general. We need to remove this stereotype. Encourage girls from a very young age in schools and colleges to opt for STEM programmes. Once women join the workforce, encourage them to actively raise their hands and ask for roles in ‘hot technologies’ areas like ML, AI, analytics, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and quantum computing. Organisations need to partner with women, support, and reward them for working in new and emerging technologies. A mentoring programme to encourage women to participate in enhancing their knowledge and giving them an edge is also very useful. A knowledge series designed to give women deeper learning in a safe environment will go a long way.”

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Femina. The original article can be found at https://www.femina.in/life/careers-and-money/future-calling-machine-learning-193650.html.)